Copyright and Fair Use: Keep Your Blog from Crossing The Line

Posted on Apr 18, 2013
By Rhonda Hurwitz

Bloggers have an innate desire to share, exchange, and discuss ideas.

The free exchange of ideas makes the blogosphere a uniquely engaging and inspiring place. One minute you’re reading a blog post that engages you, and before you know it, you are inspired to write your next post!

What then informs our ability to share and reuse each others’ content to research, write, and report through our own blogs?

The answer is that we are both protected and enabled by copyright law.

Embedded in U.S. copyright law are certain exceptions to copyright enforcement, known as fair use -- a legal defense for using another’s content without permission.

Copyright and Fair Use: The Basics

Though the guidelines surrounding fair use require subjective judgments, there are four factors to be weighed:

  1. The purpose and character of your use – reuses that add insight and transform the original work are favored over making mere copies.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work—reuses of factual information are favored over reuses of creative writing
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion taken –err on the side of using less, and steer clear of the “heart” of the work
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market --- avoid uses that potentially deprive the original creator of income.

The four factors apply even if you are not making money on the reuse and even if you attribute the work to the author.

Use Good Judgment

The very act of blogging turns your ideas into unique creative expressions—intellectual property that is automatically protected by copyright the moment you put them in writing. In the process of building on another blogger’s post, however, there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

To make sure you stay on the right side of fair use, here are some useful questions to ask:

  • Is the excerpt such that the reader may feel he/she no longer needs to read the original work?
  • Is there a balance between the amount of work you quote with your intention in doing so?
  • Is it your intent to earn money, whether through ads, subscription revenues, or otherwise?
  • Is the work that was excerpted highly creative?

Answering "Yes" to any of the above questions is cause for serious reflection, before assuming "fair use" applies.

Remove Uncertainty: Get Permission!

While no one can definitively assert that a certain use of copyright content is a fair use, our Toolbar is designed to remove some of the “grey area”, and make reusing content a more comfortable experience for both parties.

For instance, with the iCopyright service you can allow ad-supported free uses of an article for printing, emailing, or posting. Or, you could require a licensing fee for certain uses – it’s your choice.

Similarly, our EZ Excerpt service allows you to specify how much content a reader can cut-and-paste before being asked to pay a modest license fee for a larger excerpt.

To see how it works, simply mouse over any part of this blog post.

Bottom line? The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material.

Do you find inspiration in other’s blog content? Has another blogger ever crossed the line, and republished your content without permission? Let us know in the comments.

Free Checklist: Are you looking to increase traffic, readers and revenues?

Download our checklist, "Curating Content, The New Art of Republishing", to learn how to ease your workflow, expand your reach and reinforce your editorial vision through a content strategy that adds curation and republishing to the mix. 
Curating Content: The New Art of Republishing (Best Practices Checklist)